Former President Robert Kocharian announced his return to active politics on Thursday in the face of criminal charges that were brought against him following the recent dramatic change of Armenia’s government.
In an interview with the Yerkir Media TV channel, Kocharian again rejected as politically motivated the charges stemming from the deadly breakup of opposition protests which he had ordered more than a month before completing his second term in April 2008.
He also attacked the new Armenian government, saying that is dominated by inexperienced and incompetent individuals who are endangering the country’s national security, undermining its relations with Russia and lacking economic programs.
“Let’s say that I have returned [to the political arena.] I definitely have,” declared Kocharian. But he declined to specify his political plans or allies. He only said vaguely that he will make “different contact with different people.”
The 63-year-old attributed his comeback to growing geopolitical challenges facing Armenia, rather than the risk of his imprisonment. “They don’t adequately assess what’s going on outside Armenia,” he said of the new government headed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. “They have no experience. But I don’t blame them.
“Where can a person get that experience from if he has only worked [before] for some non-governmental organizations with grants provided by [U.S. philanthropist George] Soros. Maybe that funding came from Azerbaijan or Turkey through various funds.”
He said he is particularly concerned about a worsening of Russia-Armenian relations that followed the recent launch of criminal proceedings against him and two other former senior officials accused of using the armed forces against opposition protesters in February and March 2008.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced those accusations as politically motivated late last month. Pashinian downplayed the criticism last week, saying that Moscow should “adapt” to the new political realities in Armenia.
“Russia is not the kind of country to which you can talk in such a language,” said Kocharian. “Russia is our strategic partner. Without that strategic partnership our national defense would be in very serious danger.”
“I have the impression that they don’t realize the real danger, the geopolitical situation [in the region,]” he said, referring to the new government. “The price that’s usually paid for such mistakes is very heavy.”
Kocharian further claimed that Pashinian, who swept to power in May in a wave of mass protests, is not supported by the overwhelming majority of Armenians. “Today there is a very active [pro-Pashinian] segment but this doesn’t mean that it’s a majority,” he said. “It is so active and aggressive that it doesn’t let others speak out. I appeal to those other people to be more audacious. They have the right to participate in the political life.”
Pashinian, his loyalists and other critics say that Kocharian systematically stifled dissent, tolerated government corruption and rigged elections when he ran the country from 1998-2008. They say that he deliberately ordered security forces to use lethal force against opposition supporters who protested against a disputed presidential election held in February 2008.
Kocharian strongly defended his track record, however, denying that corruption was widespread during his presidency. He argued that the Armenian economy grew fivefold and living standards improved considerably in the ten-year period. “Money again appeared in people’s pockets,” he said.
He also laughed off long-standing claims that he made a huge personal fortune while in office, challenging the current authorities to prove his alleged enrichment.
Kocharian went on to accuse the Pashinian government of having no economic strategy and scaring away investors with arbitrary tax audits. “I have seen no document which can tell us what this government wants to do about the economy,” said the ex-president, who had also criticized economic policies of Serzh Sarkisian, his successor deposed by the Pashinian-led protests.
Kocharian was arrested on July 27 one day after being formally accused by the Special Investigative Service (SIS) of using the armed forces against protesters in February and March 2008 in breach of the Armenian constitution.Armenia’s Court of Appeals freed him from custody on August 13, saying that the constitution guarantees his immunity from prosecution. State prosecutors are expected to ask the higher Court of Cassation to overturn that decision.
Kocharian said that even if he is sent back to prison he is confident that the European Court of Human Rights will clear him of any wrongdoing. “I had, have and will have no fear,” he said.